05/11/2008 11:00PM

Peace Chant set for peak effort


NEW YORK - Even though it's the Saturday between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, 3-year-olds are by no means out of the spotlight. The $400,000 Lone Star Derby is the richest race in the nation, while the Peter Pan has long been a serviceable local stepping-stone to the Belmont Stakes. Meanwhile, Hollywood Park has a stakes tripleheader Saturday.

Los Angeles Handicap

Things haven't gone too well for Sailors Sunset and Peace Chant since they were separated by only a half-length when first and second in this race last year. Sailors Sunset has been beaten in all four of his starts since, while Peace Chant has gone 0 for 2. But while Sailors Sunset appears to be declining, Peace Chant looks like a horse sitting on a big race, which is why I like him.

Peace Chant's most recent outing was a fourth in the Potrero Grande Handicap, but his performance was sneakily better than it looks on paper. After establishing good early position, Peace Chant had to wait behind a wall of horses on the far turn. Then, a hole he was aiming for to split horses in upper stretch closed on him, forcing him to angle out for racing room. Peace Chant wasn't going to win the Potrero Grande, but he wasn't far off runner-up Surf Cat, who came back to win the Mervyn Leroy Handicap, and was just edged for third by El Roblar, who came back to win the Inglewood Handicap. To finish so close to sharp opponents like that is to Peace Chant's credit considering the trip he had.

Peace Chant will be making his third start off a long layoff Saturday, and that combined with a big bullet workout last Sunday suggests a peak performance is at hand. He also trips out well, figuring to sit just off what should be a contested pace.

Lone Star Derby

Synthetic track form and how it applies to races on dirt, a key issue in last week's Kentucky Derby, is also a question in this race. El Gato Malo brings some solid California form into this race. But it is anyone's guess if he will be able to replicate it on Lone Star's dirt track, and he won't be a big enough price to make it worth betting to find out. I'm going with Samba Rooster.

Samba Rooster is also going from synthetic to dirt off a surprisingly strong second in Keeneland's Lexington Stakes after setting an extremely fast pace. The difference here is Samba Rooster showed he is capable on dirt two starts back when a narrowly beaten second at Gulfstream Park to the undefeated Harlem Rocker, who came back to romp in the Withers, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 106 that is one of the fastest by a 3-year-old so far this year. Beyond that, barring a disastrous start, Samba Rooster will be in complete control of the pace, and the addition of blinkers should help him keep his mind on business through Lone Star's short stretch.

Senorita Stakes

Sweeter Still is a very logical threat in this race. She has run well in all three of her starts this year, recording her maiden win, taking the China Doll Stakes, and narrowly missing most recently in the Providencia Stakes. But that Sweeter Still seems in line to receive a much more favorable trip than she did even when she ran so well in the Providencia makes her a strong play.

Sweeter Still had to do the dirty work in the Providencia, keeping a loose-on-the-lead front-runner somewhat honest through solid early fractions. Yet even after running hard from the start, she was beaten only a nose, while finishing ahead of Bel Air Sizzle and Gorgeous Goose, stretch-runners who had better setups and who have been entered back in this spot. This time, Sweeter Still projects to sit a sweet trip off a pace contested by the stretch-out sprinters Lovely Isle and Decorator.